ACE Impact Team Aligns Efforts to Help Newark Residents Reach Greatest Potential

Anndee Hochman

Five years of convening Newark’s ACE Impact Team has taught Keri Logosso-Misurell a crucial lesson: Fight the urge to reinvent the wheel.

That’s why the ACE Impact Team, a joint effort of the Greater Newark Health Care Coalition (GNHCC) and Believe in a Healthy Newark Initiative, has borrowed strategies modeled by the Philadelphia ACE Task Force, Camden’s Hopeworks and the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission in Massachusetts.

That’s why, at its inception, the ACE Impact Team invited Sandra Bloom, founder of the Sanctuary Model and associate professor of health management and policy at the Dornsife School of Public Health, Drexel University, to speak about the necessity of trauma-informed care in systems of education, health and justice.

And it’s why, when Logosso-Misurell learned last fall of a youth-led project in Newark on adversity and resilience, her immediate response was to explore ways to connect with those youth and have the ACE Impact Team amplify their efforts.

The students, participants in New-ARK Leaders of Health, a project of the Abbott Leadership Institute (ALI), had worked with community coaches to understand population health, develop leadership skills and design projects to make their communities healthier.

For Logosso-Misurell and other members of the ACE Impact Team, who were eager to engage more youth and community members in their efforts, it was a perfect alignment. “It was very powerful. It inspired us to engage with ALI and the student participants,” she says, and to plan a multi-generational panel and breakout sessions with ALI for  this fall’s  4th Annual Believe in a Healthy Newark ” conference—sessions that will include high school, young adult, parent and ALI alumni representatives.

“One of Newark’s many assets is that there has been a lot of effort” to prevent and treat childhood adversity and build resilience, Logosso-Misurell says. “The next opportunity is to align these efforts and maximize their impact.”

A goal of the ACE Impact Team was to bring various sectors—philanthropy, government, faith-based groups, community activists, health care, higher education and K-12 schools—together with common language and shared goals. About 20 network members meet—virtually, now—every other month, and over 50 are on the e-mail list.

The ACE Impact Team aims to boost community awareness about toxic stress, implement programs and services to break the cycle of trauma and offer training and resources to practitioners in the interest of health equity.

“We showed a commitment from early on to make systemic and institutionalized racism a part of any work we would do,” Logosso-Misurell says. In 2017-18, about 30 members of the ACE Impact Team took part in a multi-day “Undoing Racism” training presented by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The challenge now, she says, is to bring that awareness—along with anti-racist policies and actions—to all the sectors Impact Team members represent.

Whether the project involves working with early childhood care providers on a trauma-informed toolkit or using a mini-grant to fund filmmakers to produce a video called “The Stoic Man,” aimed at breaking down barriers to mental health supports for Black men, the Impact Team’s goal is to learn about existing community-based efforts and collaborate with them.

Impact Team members will work with Dave Ellis, recently named the first executive director of the Office of Resilience within the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF); he will coordinate statewide efforts to prevent, buffer and heal the effects of ACEs.

Logosso-Misurell was pleased to see language promoting trauma-informed care surface in both the mission statement of Newark’s public safety team and in the superintendent’s “road map” for the school system. “It is both affirming and motivating to  see the power of having people from different organizations participate in the ACE Impact Team, aligning around common goals, and then dispersing to different rooms to influence change.”

On the immediate agenda, she says, are engaging more youth and community members in the Impact Team’s work and responding to the trauma created by the pandemic. “What will it look like, going back to school? What does it look like to access health care? What are the priority needs of individuals, organizations, and systems in light of COVID-19?”

Ongoing challenges include personnel—Logosso-Misurell is executive director of GNHCC and chair of the ACE Impact Team, but would welcome dedicated staffing to drive the work—and the need to develop clear messages and actions related to trauma and resilience.

“Even talking about ACEs is a double-edged sword, running the risk of [suggesting] there’s another thing ‘wrong’ with people,” she says. “We need to come up with an education campaign about what all of this is: the brain science, strength-based approaches, and where we go from here. What are actionable things people can be doing today —for ourselves and for each other—to reach our greatest potential?”

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